painter, printmaker, illustrator, sculptor and cartoonist, was born in Creswick, Victoria, on 22 February 1879. The ten Lindsay children were encouraged in a visual culture by their grandfather, the Rev Thomas Williams, and their mother. Norman’s early drawings were published in the Creswick Grammar school paper Boomerang , which he edited, a family tradition that had started with his older brothers Percival and Lionel . After joining Lionel in Melbourne in 1896, he acted as his ghost for illustrations in the Hawk / Hawklet , receiving 10/- after Lionel deducted 15/- for board. His first signed drawings appeared in the Free Lance , a short lived publication of 1896 which mimicked Sydney’s Bulletin. When the Free lance failed later that year, Lionel went to the Clarion while Norman took over at Hawklet (in his own name). He also decorated pages and drew political cartoons for Labor publication, Tocsin in 1897-98, e.g. illustrations to 'The Tree of Knowledge’, a poem by Paul Mell, 23 December 1897. With Lionel he drew 'The Boodler’s Band of Hope’, published 2 June 1893, 9. He worked for the Clarion and the Gadfly and co-founded the short-lived Rambler in 1899, a publication funded by Jack Elkington . Black and white and colour woodcut posters for the last (c.1899) were formerly in the Pat Corrigan collection, the former initialled by Lionel Lindsay. With Lionel and the journalist Ray Parkinson he began a venture to write and illustrate a pirate novel in the tradition of Robert Louis Stevenson. Later he began a romance with Ray’s sister Katie. They married on 23 May 1900 after her pregnancy with their eldest son, Jack, was confirmed.

There are various claims as to how Norman Lindsay first came to the attention of A.G. Stephens of the Bulletin. However most agree that Norman’s brother in law, Jack Elkington, took his portfolio of illustrations to Boccaccio’s Decameron when he travelled to Sydney and showed them to Julian Ashton. It was Ashton who arranged for them to be exhibited at the Society of Artists Rooms. subsequently A.G. Stephens published some of these in the Bulletin of 18 August 1900 under the heading 'Brilliant Early Work’ (Rolfe, however, states that Archibald discovered Lindsay for the Bulletin when he was contributing drawings to Hawk / Hawklet ). However it is clear that these drawings and their impact led to Norman being invited to come to Sydney to join the staff of the Bulletin in 1901.

Dorothy Hopkins claimed (p.194) that Norman Lindsay’s best-remembered work for the Bulletin was a drawing illustrating a couplet by James Edmond, “A Trio”, published 19 July 1906 (reprinted 2 February 1954, p.33):

We walk along the gas-lit street in a dreadful row, we three;

The woman I was and the woman I am, and the woman I’ll one day be. {original all caps}

In the 1950s a version of this was in Third World Savages Bar at the Melbourne Savage Club (ill. Johnson, p.217); in 1979 Prunster exhibited an original version held in private collection, which may have been the large 1914 oil version sold from Rene Rivkin’s collection at Sotheby’s in June 2001 for $150,750.00. There is also a lithograph.

Lindsay’s most notorious black-and-white work, however, was undoubtedly Pollice Verso 1904, a drawing first shown with the Royal Art Society of NSW, where it caused a furore, then was reproduced in the Bulletin on 16 February 1904 with unctuous comments (quoted Rolfe, 231).

In 1912 Stephens claimed his discovery of Lindsay was followed by years of promising work influenced by Doré, Durer and Howard Pyle, but that his quality began to decline steadily from about 1906 'and it has become clear that he will not take a place in the first or even in the second rank of designers and illustrators in black-and-white… ruined by his technical facility… Instead of an artist, he has become a journalist,’ Stephens concluded, even though a 'remarkably effective’ one. It may well be that Stephens’ later assessment of Norman Lindsay was influenced by the way he was conducting his private life. In 1903, while Katie was in Melbourne for the birth of their second son Ray, Norman began a relationship with his model, Rose Soady. By the time his third son, the writer Philip Lindsay, was born in 1906 Norman was spending most of his time in the studio with Rose, who was called 'George’ by his close friends and brothers so that Katie would not discover the truth. In 1909 he left for England with his sister Ruby Lindsay and her husband Will Dyson. He was later joined by Rose, whose journey to London was facilitated by Lionel. After their return to Australia at the end of 1910, Norman fell ill with pleurisy. It was during his convalescence that they moved to the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, eventually settling at Springwood.

In the years before his departure for London Norman was a significant contributor to J.F. Archibald’s dream of a literary magazine, The Lone Hand, realised by Frank Fox in 1907. He also drew for the NSW Bookstall Co (see Mills) and many other places. He was a major force in the 1907 revival of the Society of Artists, and two of his drawings are on the cover of the initial exhibition catalogue.,Some of his cartoons were published as postcards by the Bulletin Publishing Company (see David Cook).

But Norman was chiefly associated with the Bulletin , where he worked for over 50 years (1901-1958, with breaks in 1909-10 and 1923-32). After regularly filling in with political cartoons, he became the Sydney staff cartoonist in 1913 after Hop retired. His Melbourne equivalent from 1914, David Low , recollected: 'I could hardly speak to him for reverence’. Nevertheless, he drew a cartoon featuring an artist looking very like Lindsay titled 'Justification for his extinction’, published 9 May 1918, 24. 'Like all ruthless gogetters, Low was not a likable man’, was Lindsay’s comment (quoted Caban, 37; Rolfe, 231). His rapid facility was aided by the invention of the mapping pen and photoengraving, but by any measure Norman Lindsay’s Bulletin output was prodigious (see JK Archive). He drew many illustrations and joke-blocks as well as the major full-page weekly political cartoon, while also doing painting, printmaking, book and journal illustrations, as well as making a significant contribution to Australian literary fiction.

After 1911, the political cartoon was worked out in Sydney by editor James Edmond (S.H. Prior from 1915) and an outline sent by letter (later telegraph) to Springwood. The following day Norman would put the completed cartoon on the train for Sydney. He must have initiated some of his own political cartoons, however, since his son Jack tells the story of him submitting a cartoon (unlocated) to the Bulletin during WWI showing Jesus sitting on the right hand of God and saying “What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?” – which was rejected (Rolfe 231, quoting Jack Lindsay, The Roaring ’20s ). Following the paper’s editorial stance, he certainly produced vast numbers of virulent pro-conscription cartoons and propaganda posters during WWI, nearly all jingoistic, e.g. Bulletin cover 24 January 1918, 'Who’s Bluffing?’ showing a personified Germany and 'Western Offensive’ playing cards (ill. Caban, 26: many others in file). His approach to the War was solidified by the way it impacted on his own family. In 1915 he returned to Creswick where he comforted his mother after the death of his father, and farewelled his younger brother Reg, who had just enlisted in the AIF. Reginald Lindsay was killed in France on 31 December 1916. It is no accident that the figure of the heroic ANZAC, so prominent in Norman Lindsay’s war posters, bears a marked resemblance to photographs of Reg.

In the aftermath of Reg’s death Norman turned to spiritualism, meeting his dead relatives and great figures of the past via ouija board. He turned to fiction, writing and illustrating a children’s book, The Magic Pudding (1918), perhaps the most loved work in Australian children’s literature. The figure of the hero, Bunyip Bluegum, bears a marked resemblance to his father, Dr Robert Charles Lindsay. He also turned to etching, at first assisted by Sydney Ure Smith. As he had previously belittled his brother Lionel’s passion for this medium this became one of the first symptoms of the rift between them. Later Lionel assisted Norman in the finer technical aspects of etching, and Rose in printing the completed plates. Norman’s first etchings were published in 1917, and he rapidly became one of Australia’s most popular masters of the medium. Norman’s novel, Redheap (1930) based on members of his own family and his interpretation of Lionel’s adolescence, led to a final rift between the two. Other family events led to restrained hostilities with his youngest brother Daryl, who kept in close contact with the remaining family at Creswick. Nevertheless Redheap, while banned in Australia until 1958, became a classic comic novel of adolescence.

Norman and Rose married in January 1920, shortly before the birth of their daughter Jane. A second daughter, Helen, was born in 1921. The house at Springwood became a place of pilgrimage for artists, writers and even visiting royalty in the 1920s, and was photographed for the Home Magazine by Harold Cazneaux. However Norman was not happy with a domestic situation, and after an extended journey to the USA and England, made in conjunction with the publication of Redheap, he left his family and moved to 12 Bridge Street, Sydney. This had the advantage of aiding his relationship with the beautiful young artist, Margaret Coen, who later married Douglas Stewart. During World War II he returned to Springwood, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Norman was finally sacked from his £800 p.a. Bulletin job in mid-1958. Even then, he continued to draw occasional cartoons for the paper. The last, appearing on 18 March 1967, was about whether Ned Kelly wore scent (Rolfe, 43, and chapt.18). The ML Bulletin collection holds 148 original cartoons of 1901-41, 157 of 1900-37 and undated; others are in BFAG (see Filmer), AGWA (90), etc.

Granddaughter Helen Glad holds his copyright, but copyright of the etchings is held by Lin Bloomfield. In 1995 Ursula Prunster was curator for The Legendary Lindsays at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, an exhibition which placed the work of all the family in context.

Staff Writer
Mendelssohn, Joanna
Michael Bogle
Date written:
Last updated: